Below are scanned copies of a form my school uses if a parent or family requests a religious exemption to immunization requirements. Reading it through, a number of thoughts come to mind:
1.) I understand that our Constitution explicitly privileges religious beliefs in a way that it does not privilege “philosophical, political, scientific, or sociological objections” and that this has profound impact on the law. But should religious beliefs be privileged above these other beliefs? I can’t think of a good reason why other than to say that we further open a Pandora’s Box with regards to what rules apply to what people. But that doesn’t seem like a particularly good reason.
2.) The negative externalities of not vaccinating are real and well-documented. People die. There is no getting around that fact. I have very little issue with allowing religious exemptions to laws for behaviors that carry little-to-no negative externalities*. But this isn’t that. Again, people die.
3.) That said, the idea that the sincerity of one’s religious belief is being determined by state officials is also highly problematic. This alone seems a violation of what I understand the 1st Amendment to be. The minute the government or an agent thereof says, “This belief is sincere and legitimate but that one is not,” it seems we’ve gone down a very ugly rabbit hole.
4.) I believe that one of the legal challenges to the contraception mandate involved a religious organization that was eligible for an exemption but which sued on the grounds that acquiring that exemption involved filling out a form such as the one below. And while I can (obviously) understand objecting to the state adjudicating the sincerity of one’s religious beliefs, my understanding was that they found filling out of the form itself to be a violation of their faith. Maybe I’m grossly naive, but I struggle to see how the form below or something similar would do that.